Break-Ups Are Hard To Do

Rep. John Katko, R-N.Y., is seen in the Capitol Rotunda before the House voted to impeach President Donald Trump for inciting an insurrection on Wednesday, January 13, 2021. Katko is one of ten House Republicans to vote for impeachment. (Photo By Tom Williams/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images)

1. Republican Elites

McKay Coppins has a piece in the Atlantic today about how Republican elites are going to try to distance themselves from Donald Trump. The general sense seems to be that Republicans and conservatives in Congress and think tanks and the media are just going to Don Draper the last four years.

That’s one theory.

But it’s a theory that rests on the idea that institutional power trumps popular power. It presupposes that Republican voters are going to do what they’re told and revert back to the benign electorate that nominated Mitt Romney and John McCain and pushed John Boehner into the speaker’s chair.

I would argue that for both structural and psychological reasons, this dynamic no longer exists and for the foreseeable future, popular power matters a good deal more than institutional power in the GOP.

The structural reason is that the Republican coalition has evolved to shed many people with college educations in suburban and urban settings and is now heavily dependent on high-school educated white males in rural settings. This is a class of voter who is much more likely to be populist than elitist.

The psychological reason is that the Republican party has conditioned voters to value affect and mien over policy. The promise of the Republican party to its base voters is not “we can pass legislation to make your life better.” It is, “We will make the people you hate angry.”

Here is the fact set Republican elites need to grapple with: Whatever they may want to do about Donald Trump, when Pew asked Republicans about Trump last week:

  • About half said Trump bears no responsibility at all for January 6 AND that Trump’s conduct since the election has been “excellent/good.”

  • 64 percent said Trump “definitely/probably” won the 2020 election.

  • 57 percent said Trump should remain a political force for many years to come.

And those are the worst numbers Trump has seen. Most polls suggest that the percentage of Republicans who think he won the election is closer to 75 percent.

Put it this way: Who do you think has a brighter future in politics, the 10 House Republicans who voted to pass the article of impeachment against Trump, or the 139 House Republicans who voted to overturn the election?

Over the next several months you are going to see a lot of Republican and conservative elites playing pretend. Some will act like this thing never happened. Others will act like the chances of saving the party and turning out the bad guys are pretty good. There will be both willful ignorance and a great deal of Pollyanna.

Both are dangerous. The only way to meet this moment is to be ruthlessly clear-eyed about what happened, why, and where the centers of power now lie.

And ruthlessly clear-eyed is basically our mission statement. Come and join us. The future starts this week.

No Pollyanna. No BS. Ride with us.

2. One Q to Rule Them All

The other part of this equation is the extent to which QAnon has infested the party’s voters. No one knows what percentage of Republican voters are QAnon adherents, but the general sense is that whatever the number is, it’s increasing.

There are a few reasons for this, but the big one is that QAnon isn’t just QAnon. It has become an all-purpose home for every conspiracy theory under the sun: COVID deniers, election-truthers, Dominion nuts, anti-vaxxers, lizard people—they’ve all found a home in QAnon. And over the next few years, we should expect that any new, popular conspiracy theory will be integrated into the Q-sphere, too.

What happens to a political party when a significant percentage of its voters are consumed by insane conspiracy theories? The party treats the conspiracy theories gently. Because the believers are their voters.

Nota bene: when I say “significant” percentage, I don’t mean a majority. If even 5 percent of Republican voters are integrated into the QAnon belief system, then in the near term, the party can’t afford to jettison them and in the long-term, the party can’t afford not to jettison them.

All of that assumes that the GOP even could excise the QAnons, even if it wanted to. Over the weekend Ben Sasse published a piece arguing that QAnon is destroying the party from within. He’s right. But what are elected Republicans going to do? Kick their QAnon members out of the caucus? Because that’s what it would take. You think a majority of elected Republicans would agree to that?

I don’t. I doubt Sasse does, either. Because—again—that’s not where Republican voters are.

Popular power > Elite power

The Republican party is at the mercy of QAnon in a lot of ways. Which means that the party is also at the mercy of Big Tech.

QAnon will either continue to grow or peter out. If it peters out, it will likely be because enough Big Tech companies deplatform it so that the conspiracy theory has to move to more obscure parts of the web. This moderation would impose friction which would slow the growth by making it harder to recruit new followers. You have to lure people all the way over to 8Chan or Gab, rather than just grabbing unsuspecting women as they scroll through Instagram.

If you think about QAnon as a virus, then you can see deplatforming as the kind of mitigation protocols designed to bring the R0 down.

Which brings us to one of the darkly funny dynamics we’re going to see over the next few years: Republican elites are going to continue to posture and preen about how awful Big Tech moderation is even as they desperately hope Big Tech can do the housecleaning that they don’t have the stomach for.

Lol. Good times.

3. Vaccines

David Leonhardt explains why the COVID vaccines seem to be better than advertised:

  • The Moderna and Pfizer vaccines — the only two approved in the U.S. — are among the best vaccines ever created, with effectiveness rates of about 95 percent after two doses. That’s on par with the vaccines for chickenpox and measles. And a vaccine doesn’t even need to be so effective to reduce cases sharply and crush a pandemic.

  • If anything, the 95 percent number understates the effectiveness, because it counts anyone who came down with a mild case of Covid-19 as a failure. But turning Covid into a typical flu — as the vaccines evidently did for most of the remaining 5 percent — is actually a success. Of the 32,000 people who received the Moderna or Pfizer vaccine in a research trial, do you want to guess how many contracted a severe Covid case? One. . . .

After asking Richterman and others what a better public message might sound like, I was left thinking about something like this:

We should immediately be more aggressive about mask-wearing and social distancing because of the new virus variants. We should vaccinate people as rapidly as possible — which will require approving other Covid vaccines when the data justifies it.

People who have received both of their vaccine shots, and have waited until they take effect, will be able to do things that unvaccinated people cannot — like having meals together and hugging their grandchildren. But until the pandemic is defeated, all Americans should wear masks in public, help unvaccinated people stay safe and contribute to a shared national project of saving every possible life.

Read the whole thing but the big takeaway is that as soon as you are eligible for the vaccine, you should get it.